Big is Always Better
Everyone moved at the same time, brows furrowed in concentration but composures calm in the face of the unending line of GM plants that stretched from the entry chute to the other end, snaking itself around the room's workers. The factory was stifling, but he knew that outside this little bubble, genetically modified food proliferated the Earth, giants in the human world, with trees higher than apartment blocks and fruit as large as his head.
His grip on his gene gun tightened as he watched the assembly line move again, a mechanical whirring sound filling the air as the new plant tissue dumped itself in front of him. Corn this time. He could tell at a glance; the knowledge was embedded in his mind with the clarity of long hours of drilling for this very purpose. He knew that once the corn finished the circuit and was finally produced, each kernel would be the size of his fist, flesh succulent and ready to burst out of its stretched skin.
A quick glance around showed that everyone else was staring glassy-eyed at the plant in front of them, facial features almost identical: same height, same blond hair, same small eyes. It was almost impossible to tell the difference without nametags. Number thirty-six gamma, number seventy-two zeta. He was number fourteen tau. Their hands were already in position, poised to begin treating the plant tissue the moment the bell sounded. It rang a moment later, the bell's crisp ringing sound cutting through the air with the decisiveness of a scythe through dry grass.
Obediently, he turned towards the plant tissue on the petri dish, and switched on the gene gun, watching dispassionately as the gold particles impacted the dish. His hands were sure on the equipment and he worked like a well-oiled machine, movements relying upon the instincts of a lifetime of practice rather than on conscious thought. As he worked, his mind drifted off, and his surroundings blurred, the large neon letters of the company, BIG FOR ALL, stretching and compressing until it resembled sharp, serrated teeth ready to swallow him whole.
He continued working. It was a relief when the shift ended and he was free to finally leave; only stopping when another worker called out to him. He turned around and looked into the listless eyes fixed rigidly at his head, at the worker who wore an impassive mask for a face.
"You are permitted to take some of the produce home with you," she said flatly, and passed him a basket with a strawberry in it. Big. He could barely carry the thing. Arms aching already, he turned and began the long trek home.
Their houses were all the same, furniture arranged in the same positions, the only differentiating feature being the number plastered to the front of each house. Inside, rooms were blank, without any decoration save for the omnipresent holes that peeked out from the walls, hiding cameras that were watching, always watching. Even so, it was only in the comfort of his own that he began to dwell upon the olden days by indulging in an array of DVDs and other such antiquities, secret things passed down in his family through the generations. He liked watching the people in the videos eat food. Real food. Not the strawberry he held in his arms, bulging and large and plentiful, but flavourless and bland, just a shadow of its natural counterpart.
He sat in front of the screen and watched as a girl bit into a lemon, his face a stony mask, but insides raging, taking note of every grimace. He looked upon the laughter that emanated from her family with resigned acceptance tinged with longing and anger. Nobody laughed nowadays. They were just as identical inside as they were out: empty, utterly empty.
Feeling overwhelmed, he sat down and stared at the strawberry in front of him. Robotically, he reached out and began eating it, chewing on its flesh mechanically. It felt like eating paper. As he ate, he felt like the blandness of the fruit was sucking out the final remnants of vitality in his house, which was already austere but now seemed utterly lifeless. Just like the entire world. He knew it was the company BIG FOR ALL who was responsible; it had risen up like a tidal wave back in 2012—nearly three hundred years prior—to sweep away the world.
But maybe he could run away. This thought was like an electric shock, and he could almost feel it pounding in his ears, filling him with energy but also a hyperawareness of his environment. He reminded himself that no one else could hear his traitorous thoughts, but he was still on edge. What was that buzzing sound? Just his refrigerator room. That heavy booming sound? Just the strawberry falling onto the ground. That doorknock? Just –
He heard the knock again and his heart seized in fear. There was a brief silence and he held his breath, hoping against hope that it would be all right. Then, the door to his house began to creak open, each screech sending a shiver up his spine. A footstep emanated out, hushed but menacing and his body finally catched up with his mind. He ran, sweeping his DVDs under the sofa, behind his TV, anywhere. But it was too late. The policeman was in his house.
He stood still as the policeman searched his house with laser-like focus, feeling that at any minute, his stash would be found. His terror felt almost palpable in the air – could the policeman sniff it out? It was almost impossible to relax.
Everything changed when the policeman began to walk towards the sofa. Time speeded up and the blood rushed to his head. His brain screamed at him to grab the policeman, stop him from moving forward to some way. The policeman reached the sofa and began to bend down. In his mind, the balance shifted. There was only one goal remaining in his head. He turned and ran.
He made it to the front door before he was caught and arrested, his taste of freedom still hanging fresh in the air.